My community, my thinking and I

January 1st, 2003 by MrLuxuryFashionGuru

Many people have told me that, in many ways, I am the antithesis of what my upbringing and my circumstances should have produced. They stare in amazement when I tell them about my background and my schooling experiences, wondering how I ever came to be who I am. It is clear to me, however, that I have been shaped extensively by my upbringing in Asia.

I grew up in Singapore, a multi-ethnic tropical nation-state that, within one generation, went from rural village to bustling metropolis. As a result, Singapore is a study in juxtaposition: the ancient with the avant-garde, the traditional with the trendy. Consequently, I have always had a great love for the very old, archaic roots of culture — traditional language, music, architecture and even vintage clothing. To me, such things speak of a rich history and a precious heritage. Hence, it has given me great joy to travel to places bearing such reminders of the past, such as the ruins of Carthage in Tunisia, Ephesus in Turkey, the Forbidden City in China, and the Alhambra in Spain. On the other hand, I have always been one to embrace the new and the modern; for example, I took instantly to the Internet and taught myself HTML. As such, I have developed a delicate internal balancing act, accepting the latest developments and integrating the newest technology into my life, while respecting and preserving the roots that ground my identity.

People are sometimes surprised that I have any identity at all. This is due to the fact that most of my schooling years were spent in Confucian, Chinese-style schools which, for the most part, scorn independent thought, creativity and individualism. Instead, they espouse a style of spoon-fed rote learning and champion the inculcation of Asian values and solidarity.

It is true that most Asian societies are inclined to repress individualism for the sake of societal homogeneity and harmony, which is potentially beneficial when practised in moderation. However, my high school, Dunman High School, took this principle to extremes. The most notoriously Draconian and Maoist Chinese school in Singapore, Dunman High had to be experienced to be believed. Prefects, mostly Chinese nationals, wore red armbands, a la the Red Guards, students were called to morning assembly by the haunting, whistled melody of “Bridge Over the River Kwai”, and every regulation was strictly enforced, down to the color and style of female undergarments. It is surprising, then, that Dunman was consistently the top-ranked co-ed school in the country, with the most expensive campus and lots of extra government funding for computers and other equipment.

Despite the strongly Chinese environment at Dunman (or perhaps because of it), I continued to read English books voraciously, having never been strongly inclined to reading Mandarin books. Thus, even as I was immersed in the most traditional of ethnic Chinese culture, my English actually improved, something I put to full use at Dunman. I participated actively in English drama and eventually became head of the English Drama Society, I put together a debating team that consistently won school titles, and I took to the stage for oratorical competitions.

I am happy to say that I survived four years at Dunman, even flourishing there. Perhaps it was my adaptable spirit. Perhaps it was my optimism. Perhaps it was a guardian angel, who knows? One thing is for sure – Dunman formed my respect for teachers, my sense of propriety and my ability to see the value of discipline.

Come junior year, I chose to enter Raffles Junior College, the most diametrically-opposed school to Dunman there is. Raffles is a Western-styled, multi-ethnic school that strongly encourages independent thought and learning. I loved it. In no time, I was fully integrated into the school, managing to hold my own in the classroom and in the debating arena, where I was part of the team that won a national title. I even found myself on the international stage due to competitions such as ThinkQuest.

No one ever guessed that I was an ex-Dunmanian. While making the most of the cultural heritage I have been exposed to, I have also managed to forge my own path. Grounded in my culture, I look forward to blazing that path well into the future

Jason S. Yeo, Oct 2000


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